December 13, 2016
Incriminating text messages sent to Robert Schultz from his brother’s cellphone that appear to coincide with the arson of Schultz’s restaurant in Jefferson are hearsay and cannot be used as evidence to convict him of the crime, a judge ruled last week.
The ruling came less than a week before Schultz, 53, of Ankeny, was set to stand trial starting today for felony arson, criminal mischief and insurance fraud charges. The most serious charge is punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
The text messages include “I know it didn’t work last time, but I’ll make sure it happens this time” before the fire and “Go” after the fire.
Schultz’s attorney argued they are hearsay because Greene County Attorney Nicola Martino does not plan to call Schultz’s brother as a witness at the trial. They could be allowed as evidence if Martino could prove the messages were part of a conspiracy to commit to commit arson, but District Judge Gary McMinimee said their purpose is not clear.
“The three texts, without more, do not make it more likely than not that the defendant and his brother conspired to commit arson,” McMinimee wrote. “The text communications could have just as likely related to something entirely different.”
But McMinimee left open the option for Martino to request a court hearing to reverse that decision. It’s unclear if he has from online court records.
Schultz’s trial has been delayed to Jan. 24, court officials said.
Schultz was at his Ankeny home when the overnight fire was set. Investigators allege that Schultz had an accomplice ignite the blaze so that Schultz could collect a large insurance payout. He was deeply in debt at the time.